Marriage

When ADHD Disrupts (and Ruins) the Romance

Distractability subverts romance and eroticism, but ADHD and sexuality can absolutely co-exist in a healthy relationship. Learn how to revive intimacy, intrigue, and excitement with your partner.

Two hands of adults with ADHD forming a heart shape as they work through their marriage problems.

ADHD and sex: It’s a topic almost no one writes about, even though almost every adult with ADHD I’ve treated has had an ADHD-related sexual problem. One of the most common complaints is a lack of sexual intimacy. By this, I don’t mean no sex, but sex that doesn’t foster genuine emotional intimacy.

Good sex is possible only if both partners in an ADHD marriage feel relaxed and playful — and are capable of shutting out the outside world to savor the moment. That isn’t easy for adults with ADHD. How can a man who has trouble “lingering” enjoy sex? How can a woman focus on giving pleasure (or getting it) if she is thinking about repainting the living room or processing e-mail?

Sexual ennui is another big problem. Adults with ADHD thrive on excitement in all things, and that includes their relationships and their sexuality. As a romantic partnership matures, and passion inevitably ebbs, someone with ADHD may lose interest in sex and move on to other activities or other people who are more stimulating. Boredom with sex is one reason for the high rate of divorce among couples affected by ADHD.

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In some relationships, a lack of sexual intimacy reflects a power struggle. Typically, the partner without ADHD will begin to assume ever-greater control of shopping, finances, parenting, and everything else that goes on in the household. At some point, she starts to resent having to “do all the work” and nags her spouse.

Meanwhile, the partner with ADHD starts to feel more like a child than a lover. This creates a dual problem: The spouse without ADHD builds up so much resentment that sex doesn’t sound like much fun, while the other partner’s growing view of his spouse as a parent diminishes his own sexual interest. And so, energy that was once devoted to sex gets channeled into hobbies and other nonsexual pursuits.

Do you spend a big portion of each day reminding, coaxing, or goading your partner — or vice versa? If so, odds are, you’re in one of these frustratingly anti-erotic relationships.

In other relationships, the issue is poor time management.

[12 Ways to Save Your Most Important Relationships]

Maybe one partner is in the mood, while the other is sound asleep. Or maybe one is waiting expectantly in the bedroom while the other is Googling the latest stock quotes. (One patient of mine calls her husband’s computer his “plastic mistress.”) Sadly, these couples often assume that some underlying conflict is keeping them from having sex, when what they actually have is a scheduling problem.

No matter what issues you face, the first step toward resolving them is to understand that ADHD plays a major role in how you relate to each other sexually. Step two is to acknowledge that the problem is likely to be biological in nature, rather than emotional. In other words, it’s not that you don’t love each other. It’s that ADHD-influenced bad habits get in the way.

The spouse with ADHD needs to learn how to linger. Practice in nonsexual settings — for instance, talking with your spouse over a cup of coffee, or visiting a museum together — before trying out the skill in the bedroom. And both spouses need to let go of resentments and work to rebalance their relationship. A skilled therapist can help with these issues. If you’re enmeshed in the parent/child pattern I described, it’s essential to start sharing responsibility for organization, child care, money, and so on. Gradually, romance will reawaken.

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  1. I started to read the article as well just an excuse for bad relationship, but then so many things that were said in the article are exactly what happened in my last relationship I have it she did not. After reading the Articles I kind of feel guilty about the relationships and what went on, before you didn’t know and I just made excuses of why things happened now you understand a lot of it is because of me or us with the issue.

  2. My 6yr relationship with ADHD partner has been tough when it comes to sex. He never compliments me or looks at me in a sexual way. I even thought he was gay in the early days. Out of the blue every now and then he instigates sex and it’s very physical and intense. It’s average once a month if that can even go to two. We are both in our forties and I’m really struggling. I’m I think an attractive woman and I enjoy sex and fancy the pants off my partner. I have tried instigating and get turned down with excuses of too tired, haven’t had shower etc. I have tried being loving and cuddly without instigating.. I have tried just walking around house in evenings in feminine sexy nighties without being obvious, I have tried just not being sexual at all, I have tried being fun and flirty…. nothing works.. just that very one off time and a short burst of passionate sex and that’s it TIL the next time. He claims to fancy the pants off me if I ask …but really?? Even when we have been out for the evening to a do and I know I’m looking a million dollars, not even a compliment. I feel so lonely. I have mentioned all of this and he says it’s a turn off that I mention it…. he’s on no meds and won’t take any… smokes pot occasionally to self medicate… which I struggle to accept but I shut up and say nothing. I feel dead inside…

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